The name certainly conjures a shudder of emotion—cum—eroticism. As a cop in New York, I observed the information that the local distillate—illegal and popular—was, of course, called Kong. Potent. That it killed or blinded many of its imbibers did not appear to be a deal breaker. Hooch is hooch.
Watching the latest iteration starring a very hot Jessica Lange suddenly illuminated my thinking—the movie is a racist tract. Kong is the powerful black male of mythic sexual powers and Lange the sacrificial white virgin.
As if to underscore the point, the film’s natives are shown in vivid and vigorous coital gyrations. Kong’s fingers assume phallic significance.
This is one of many revelations that have occurred to my feeble and febrile imagination as I pursued my passions as a devoted cineaste.
My memory was taken back to my high school days when, freed from being dazzled by “The Fountainhead,” I was racked by the casual observation of Robert Inkpen (referred to by a clever friend as Roberto Tintapluma—to me, a Spaniard!) that, of course, it was about the conflict between collectivism and individualism (socialism vs capitalism—duh!). I’d been seduced by Ayn Rand—and didn’t know it. How dumb is that?
The humiliation led me to the frantic search of what else I’d missed. Good God—right in front of my eyes and I’d not seen it. “None so blind . . . ”
This particular splash of icy water on my psyche led me into a lifelong search for hidden or symbolic meanings. It also led to a compulsive search for the films of the Italian or French Waves (De Sica; Fellini; Rosellini; Visconti; Renoir; Goddard et alia). And, of course, Bergman, Lang, Kurosawa and the greatest American—Stanley Kubrick. Not to mention my Spanish hero—Pedro Almodovar, who really gave us a jolt with such simple pleasures as “Talk to Her.” In this one the basic pursuit of human contact ultimately produces a miracle—a testament to the importance of interactions, contact. The faith embodied in inclusion. Of course, the over-the-top Almodovar carries communication to bizarre extremes, with the result a criminal pregnancy. See it.
These guys (tragically, few women, it must be said) offer insights into life and its meanings, but, like great artists in all media, they require application and effort. The age of video phones doesn’t really encourage us to such intellectual exertions.
The popularly embraced cultural offerings have laziness in common. They encourage our attention but offer no intellectual nourishment. Lie back and enjoy it. No need to make an effort. It’s all laid out for you—complete with laugh tracks to prod your reaction.
The seductiveness of Kong is that it will be enjoyed on a superficial level and its evil implications can be conveniently overlooked. There is a wonderful Spanish phrase for this—Hacer la vista gorda (which literally means to make our viewing fat—or, figuratively, to deaden our perception deliberately).
Kurosawa did Shakespeare (“Ran,” “Throne of Blood”). Lang did Beethoven (“Metropolis”). Bergman did religion (“The Seventh Seal”) and Kubrick did everything—pacifism (“Paths of Glory”), religion (“Eyes Wide Shut”), revolution (“Spartacus,” in which he rehabilitated Dalton Trumbo), and the French and Italians literally had a ball with Catholicism. Fellini, for example, has a statue of Jesus fly over Rome. Literally a Flying Jesus. How many shepherd children reported this miracle sighting? Does Fatima conjure anything? Lourdes?
What it should all do is what the Greeks prodded us to do—ask questions. Think. Sweat. Strive. It aint gonna be served on silver platter—as much of our culture is. A life unexamined is not worth living.
As I look back the thing that strikes me most about coming to America is the power of the culture. I couldn’t wait to master English. What did “Beat me daddy eight to the bar” mean? The movies! The music! The theater and, yes, the books. For most of the last 100 years America has not only been the world’s biggest capitalist but, surprisingly, its dominant cultural hegemon. Do we have Kong to thank for some of it?
Letter to Ed Felien
Thank you for running the column by Tony Bouza. It’s good journalism. I never thought I’d say that. I came up in the late ’60s in Mpls. I was served by Mr. Bouza when he was Chief of Police in the ’80s.
You risked a beating wearing jeans or hair past your shirt collar then. I did both. Ask Tony about the “Flying Squad” of the 5th Precinct, 29th & Bryant South. It was usually (always) four helmeted police, rookies led by one sergeant whose sole purpose was quick response to beat heads. This was pre-SWAT, but not before ass stomping by policemen.
I also enjoy your pieces on your beginnings of the newspaper. Same era.
Michael S Larson
Appreciation for Bouza’s January column
I so appreciate the care Tony took in writing this article appreciating all the good things Jews have done for us and our entire country/world.